I’m not one to bother with the latest alleged blockbuster buzzing from the salons of Hollywood high culture. Over the course of two valuable hours, I can only take so many car chases, explosions, and run-of-the-mill depravity. Alas, I had a welcome respite from all of that last weekend when I joined a crowd of about 700 at Grove City College’s Crawford Auditorium for a special screening of the newly released The Perfect Game, made possible by Jim Van Eerden, a wonderful, talented man who graduated from Grove City College over two decades ago and who is the film’s executive producer.
I will not attempt to don the hat of critic, assessing various esoteric elements of the work as "film." There were, however, some things that really stood out as I watched this moving story—things in keeping with my normal hat as an observer of faith, politics, and history.
The movie is based on the true story of nine boys from Monterrey, Mexico who made it all the way to Williamsport, Pennsylvania in 1957, where they won the legendary Little League World Series, and by no less than a perfect game tossed by pitcher Angel Macias. They were led by the inspiring tandem of a coach named Cesar Faz and a priest named Padre Estaban.
I saw a movie that should appeal to both sides of the political fence and, spiritually speaking, to an even wider audience.
Of course, this isn’t a political movie. The message is one of faith and hope, a general principle that applies to every member of the human race. Nonetheless, here’s a movie that liberals and conservatives alike can applaud. It embodies the American dream, pursued by poor Mexican kids, who struggle to make it out of their village, over the border, and across America, from Corpus Christi to Kentucky to I-80. They persevere on hard work and prayer. They endure the ugliness of the segregated South. They are underdogs, discriminated against, as are the African-Americans they encounter, not to mention the female sportswriter who follows them.
From a faith perspective, the movie is warmly ecumenical. The boys are first shepherded by their devoted priest, who blesses everything from Holy Communion to baseball gloves. When the priest returns to the parish mid-way through the boys’ successful run, the team is fostered by another fatherly spiritual mentor: an African-American Baptist preacher, who encourages the boys and offers selfless service, as does his lovable wife. Intercessors range from Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe to the Book of Psalms.
The movie's unafraid, unapologetic commitment to faith is splendid. It is commitment, frankly, that risks the wrath of the apostles of American secular culture. This will be the film's highest hurdle in achieving popular acclaim. Hey, so be it.
Yet, what most impressed me was the film’s faithfulness to truth and history.
How many times have you watched a movie intended to inspire, that deals with a certain era, and find no mention of faith? You sense, given your knowledge of the way things used to be, that a church, a minister, a devout parent, a Sunday school teacher had to have been involved somewhere. You do a little research, only to find it was indeed a matter of faith that propelled the hero to greatness. And yet, tragically, the post-modern mavens expunged this “faith angle” from the script. It was just too “religious.”
Instead, then, the final product is, in reality, a deceptive perversion of truth—and not worthy of inspiration. The creators airbrushed the Creator who, in point of fact, made the entire drama possible to begin with. That’s another kind of game: a quite imperfect one, a form of cinematic and historical fraud, produced by a dominant culture that violates trust.
Mercifully, that isn’t what happened with The Perfect Game. Here was a crew—from writers to producers—that spoke the truth. Truth was valued and honored. Whatever else you might say about the movie, from technical merits to some pretentious, impressive-sounding mumbo-jumbo, that’s an artistic achievement as special as a perfect game.